Jobs for People Who Are Good With Their Hands

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Wanted: Manual dexterity

Photo: Christine Van Heertum/Wikimedia Commons

There was a time when most people worked with their hands; that is, they rolled up their sleeves and got busy each day creating things that others used and admired. But with the rise of "professional" careers, a lot of us now spend our work days staring at a digital screen. There’s nothing tangible to show for our efforts and no observable way to showcase our skills. Ultimately, this lack of human touch can leave us feeling unsatisfied.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’ve ever nursed a desire to pursue something more hands-on, there’s good news. Plenty of professions still require an actual hand — or two. Many of these jobs pay reasonably well and don’t require an advanced degree or years of schooling. Consider trying your hand at one of following occupations.

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Butcher

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Sure, those aproned workers in your grocery store meat department cut and wrap chicken, beef and pork, but they also do a whole lot more — all of which requires specialized knowledge, physical strength and nimble fingers. For instance, butchers also make sausage, cure meats, sharpen knives and operate specialty equipment. And not just in supermarkets. Employment options range from meat-processing plants and wholesale companies that supply to restaurants to stand-alone butcher shops.

Training required: There’s no formal certification process, per se, to become a butcher. But most people train or apprentice either on the job or receive a certificate or associate's degree focused on meat processing or meat science. One intriguing area of growth is craft butchery. Check out this training program, a back-to-basics approach that encourages sustainable farming and use of the entire animal.

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Blacksmith

Photo: Hans Splinter/flickr

Back in the day, blacksmiths were valued and vital members of the community. These metal workers fashioned everything from horseshoes to nails by heating wrought iron in a forge, then cutting, bending and hammering it into shape on an anvil. The science and art of blacksmithing isn’t so integral to 21st century life, but it continues to be a unique career path for those with a knack for metal crafts. Today’s blacksmiths still make horseshoes (a subset of blacksmiths called farriers), but many others consider themselves artists who design decorative railings, gates, furniture and sculptures.

Training required: No degree is needed to become a blacksmith, but many on this path will either serve as apprentices or receive some kind of training. Several universities, folk art schools and art centers in the U.S. and Canada offer blacksmithing classes and training programs. Check out this list from the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America.

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Bartender

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Whether you prefer serving old-school martinis and Manhattans or crafting signature cocktails, bartending can be a viable career choice for people who are handy. Few other professions let you have your days free or provide such a highly social work atmosphere. The tips aren’t bad either.

Training required: Each state is different, but overall if you’re of legal drinking age (and have impeccable customer service skills and the gift of gab) there are few special licensing or certification requirements to become a bartender. Check with your state’s liquor control board to learn what kind of training may be needed. To learn some recipes and mixing basics, consider taking some bartending courses or enrolling in bartending school. You might also look for a gig as a barback (bartending assistant) and learn on the job.

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Sign language interpreter

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Here’s a career that literally lets your hands do the talking. Using American Sign Language (ASL), finger spelling and body language, these hands-on communicators translate spoken words for deaf and hearing-impaired communities. Sign language interpreters work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals, businesses, government offices, conferences and live events.

Training required: While most interpreters have no trouble finding work once they have experience and certification from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) or the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), you might consider getting a degree in ASL and interpreting at a community college or university for added career power.

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Pastry chef

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If you have a sweet tooth and know how to whip up delectable cakes, pies and pastries to satisfy it, this may be your career calling. Granted, the hours can be long and grueling, and it’s high-pressure work whether you’re employed in a restaurant or run your own bakery. But for those who love kneading, rolling and decorating delicacies, this is pretty much the sweetest gig around.

Training required: There are no formal requirements to head up a pastry kitchen and many routes to get there. One way is to start at a restaurant and learn on your way up. Be warned, though, you’ll probably begin as a dishwasher. Other options that can boost your chances of getting a top job include entering a degree or certificate program at a community college or culinary school, working as a chef’s apprentice, or getting certification via the American Culinary Federation.

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Arborist

Photo: TS Eriksson/Wikimedia Commons

With more green spaces being created in cities and suburbs, the demand for tree planters, trimmers and climbers is likely to surge. Arborists wield their green thumbs in a variety of places and spaces. For instance, you might work for a power company cutting trees back from utility lines, or grab a job with a landscape architect, or maintain trees for a municipality in public parks or along city streets. Best of all, your work protects the planet. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, cut erosion and prevent storm water runoff.

Training required: You don’t need formal credentials to do tree work, but some employers may require education in arboriculture, horticulture or landscape design. You might also want to pursue certification to enhance your career prospects. The Tree Care Industry Association, for example, offers a Certified Tree Care Safety Professional program.

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Massage therapist

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Working with your hands doesn’t always mean hard manual labor. You can also use them to heal. Massage therapists manipulate muscle and soft connective tissues to boost wellness, improve circulation, reduce pain and promote relaxation. There are dozens of specialized massage and bodywork techniques to choose from, like Swedish massage and shiatsu. Best of all, massage therapists are increasingly employed in mainstream medicine. That means you can have your choice of numerous work environments, from hospitals, physical therapy clinics and doctors’ offices to spas and cruise ships.

Training required: This is one of those careers that can’t be learned on the job. In most states you need to be licensed. The requirements vary, but typically you’ll need to complete 500 to 1,000 hours of study in a formal massage therapy training program offered through a college or massage therapy school and pass an exam. Board certification is voluntary, but going that extra mile can open even more career doors. By the way, you needn’t confine yourself to humans. Animal massage therapists are also in demand.

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Bicycle mechanic

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As the bike industry gains ground worldwide and bike sharing programs, bicycle tourism and e-bikes rise in popularity, it seems certain that demand for people to repair, assemble and modify bicycles will only grow. If you have a good mechanical sense and love to tinker with your own bike, this could be the occupation for you.

Training required: A college degree isn’t a must-have. In fact, your fastest ticket to becoming a bicycle technician may be to find a job in a bike shop and learn as you go. Taking a few bicycle repair classes (typically offered through continuing education departments at local colleges) can help round out your knowledge and skills.

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Floral arranger/designer

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Being a floral designer lets you use your hands and artistic eye to cut and arrange flowers and greenery into splashy bouquets and floral displays. Most florists have a sense of style and a flair for coordinating nature’s colors and textures, not to mention extensive plant knowledge.

Training required: Like many work-with-your-hands jobs, this one doesn’t require a college degree. On-the-job training, internships or apprenticeships can be the best routes to learn what you need to know. Some colleges offer associates degrees in floral design. You can also amplify your qualifications by pursuing voluntary certification, such as the American Institute of Floral Designers’ Certified Floral Designer credential.

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Stonemason

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If the pyramids or the Taj Mahal get you thinking, “I’d like to build that,” you might just be a stonemason at heart. Using diamond-tip saws, chisels and other tools of the trade, these artisans cut and shape chunks of rock and stone to construct (or repair) everything from cathedrals and walls to tombstones and statues. The job can be physically taxing — it's often performed outdoors in all kinds of weather — but the satisfaction of constructing something meant to last can be immense. And demand for stonemasons is expected to accelerate as population growth prompts the need for more schools, hospitals and homes.

Training required: You don’t need a license or certification, but you do need some training. Most stonemasons either apprentice for one to two years with an experienced craftsman or attend a mason program at a technical school.

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Furniture restorer/refinisher

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One way to capitalize career-wise on the reuse and recycle trend is to make old furniture look new again. You’ll need carpentry and woodworking skills, an ability to refinish old wood veneers, mastery of reupholstering techniques and perhaps some knowledge of historical furniture-making methods if you work with antiques.

Training required: Like so many handicraft careers, furniture restoration doesn’t come with mandatory educational requirements. You can get training in a woodworking program at a technical school or community college, but many furniture restorers start out as apprentices or entry-level employees in a furniture restoration shop.